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Juana Martinez-Neal

What I learned from Dan Santat’s Workshop

Things take time for me to sink in so it makes sense that after a month of attending Dan Santat’s workshop here in Phoenix I finally can sort out what I’ve learned from it. So here is my recap of what I got out of the experience.
Warning: Results may vary depending on locations and illustrators.

1. now Who You Admire In Order to Understand What You Need To Do As An Artist
Dan asked us to find a piece that we love. So as diligent as I am, I immediately created a Dropbox folder and dragged and dropped pieces that I felt were gorgeous for one reason or another. It didn’t take long until I realized I had over 30 jpeg files. So I had to narrow it down over and over again. Until I was left with 1 piece. The process confirmed my love for Rebecca Dautremer‘s work. In the process I clearly outlined what I love about her work and I know what I need to achieve on my work: her use of light, her portray of different cultures, and her incredible compositions. Now I have a clear direction.

2. Learn From The “Masters”
Part of the assignment was to copy the 1 piece that you loved. So I did my copy. What did I learn? My eyes see colors a lot brighter than they need to be. Rebecca’s work has all these colors yet when I was copying her piece I had to force myself to mute my palette – a lot. I also learned how to use gouache by looking at her illustration. So next time that you love a piece even if you are too busy, I dare you to copy it. You have no idea all that you can learn.

My “copy” and the original below. The piece is from the book Cyrano from Edelvives.

Copy of Rebecca Dautremer's Cyrano piece

3. Adopt From Everyone
Dan also gave us an acrylic demonstration. He painted a big, round, yellow moon for us. Before starting, he showed us how to make the Dan Santat Acrylic Palette. This part of the workshop I processed and adopted the very next Monday – I had to stop by the Art Store to pick up a couple of things. I can tell you, my new palette is fabulous. Thanks, Dan! So go out and look at other artists at work, you’ll always get something that you can incorporate in your work.

Copy of Rebecca Dautremer's Cyrano piece

4. Face Your Fears
I’m going to be honest here: it was extremely difficult to get my copy started. I didn’t start until the Thursday before the workshop. I was simply scared of not being able to make a copy that looked like the original. It was a fear to look like a bad artist in front of other people that I really admire. The fear paralized me and if you think about it, there is no need to prove yourself against anyone but yourself. Once I accepted that, I was able to paint my assignment “copy” piece. So go ahead, face your fears. If you get a bad piece, so what? Next one will be better. Practice makes perfect.

C5. Come To Terms With Yourself
I knew for a while that I didn’t want to do any more colored pencil. The pain is excruciating and there was a point were I found a need to move onto my mixed media work. I was craving brushes and paints. So when I had a portfolio review with Dan, I asked his opinion on the two portfolios: colored pencils and mixed media. His answer was: “you have to come to terms with yourself and decide.” He couldn’t be any more right. Nobody can tell you what to do or how to get there. You must do the search within you and decide for yourself. So follow your instincts. They are ALWAYS right.

Dan Santat is a great children’s illustrator. If you haven’t seen his work, you can find more about him, his books and upcoming workshops here.

Children's book author and illustrator, mami of three, wife, sun aficionado, amateur singer and Margarita lover born in Lima, Peru and living in sunny AZ.


  • July 12, 2011

    Thank you Juana, for such a very honest and super post! It sounds like you had a great experience..and your piece turned out wonderfully (I enjoy your palette!).

  • July 13, 2011

    This is a great post Juana! Thank you so much for sharing what you learned!

  • July 14, 2011

    Thank you! Thank you! I’m so happy you took the time to share. :) Inspiring post.

  • July 20, 2011

    Thanks for sharing this Juana. Dan is a great artist, I’m sure it must had been a great workshop.

  • July 28, 2011


    Thanks so much for sharing this, Juana! A great, concise recap, helpful and encouraging. Wish I could have been there myself… I’ve often thought about doing some copies of my favorite pieces – just for the practice, sounds like it was a great learning experience for you!

  • August 7, 2011

    Nice recap of the workshop! I agree that copying a piece is the best way to learn different ways of painting and seeing. Love your new site!

  • October 8, 2011

    Such a great post Juana! I too am in love with Rebecca Dautremer and now I have an even greater vision of why I do. Time for some more soul searching so I can get further down my personal path. Thanks again!

  • November 4, 2011

    Male Salas

    Oh Juana!! gracias por compartir tan maravillosa y valiosa experiencia.

    Me gustó mucho la pieza y dirección que elegiste, que la verdad, no estás nada lejos de eso, de hecho a primera vista creí que ambas ilustraciones eran tuyas!, pero hechas en diferentes papeles o algo así… :)

    No puedo esperar a empezar mi propio ejercicio!! jeje.


  • November 4, 2011

    Male Salas

    Juana coincidí contigo!!! mi pieza también es de Rebecca Dautremer!!!!

    Cuando leí el ejercicio, inmediatamente pensé en una imagen que encontré hace tiempo, que me impresionó mucho, de Alicia en el país de las maravillas, pero creí que era de otra ilustradora que tiene un estilo parecido, pero me acabo de dar cuenta de que en realidad es de Rebecca!!

    Parece algo obvio que coincidamos, siendo Rebecca tan buena ilustradora, pero de todas formas creo que es una gran coincidencia!! jeje (me encantan las coincidencias)

  • January 6, 2012


    I really enjoyed reading this and learning a few of the mechanics of the artistic process!

  • January 13, 2012

    This was fascinating. I write and have always wanted to start learning more about illustration. I love to draw and can do pretty well, but have no formal training.

    You made me want to go start looking for some classes. Somewhere. lol.

    Love your work by the way. Beautiful.

  • January 13, 2012

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and advice. I only know of him from his graphic novel and SCBWI Bulletin cover. Good to know that he teaches as well. How did you hear of the course?

  • January 13, 2012

    Interesting recap. Some very logical lessons. While not a direct parallel, a lot of this is applicable to writing poetry as well.

    It would be an interesting challenge to find THE ONE poem I’ve read on the outside that I admire above all others …


  • November 26, 2012


    Gracias por compartir Juana, yo tengo una teoría que a través de los ojos de alguien latinoamericano los colores son mas brillantes..un día escuche que era porque nuestro clima es mucho más cálido ;)

    Mi elección es Alina Chau…ya te compartiré!
    Un abrazo

  • March 28, 2013

    Thank you so much for your article! I found you searching for my favorite illustrator of all time, and i was so happy to read your workshop ‘resume” ! Very helpful ! thank you!

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